Ravens GameDay

OWINGS MILLS - The typical drudgery of NFL games that don't count usually goes away for at least one night, replaced by the importance of an annual preseason game worthy of a closer look. As the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) play the Washington Redskins (2-0) tonight at M&T Bank Stadium, the third preseason game figures to provide a telling snapshot of where the team stands.

Ravens readying for ‘dress rehearsal' against Redskins

OWINGS MILLS - The typical drudgery of NFL games that don't count usually goes away for at least one night, replaced by the importance of an annual preseason game worthy of a closer look. As the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) play the Washington Redskins (2-0) tonight at M&T Bank Stadium, the third preseason game figures to provide a telling snapshot of where the team stands. That's because the Ravens plan to play the majority of their starters for as long as three quarters.

"This is the biggest dress rehearsal for a real game," Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We matched more film for them than we did the other games. The first preseason game, you barely watch any film on your opponent. Second, you watch a little bit

"This game, we actually broke down some plays and watched them on film and game-planned them a little bit. This is definitely the biggest dress rehearsal as far as a preseason game." Just like dress rehearsals for other occasions, the Ravens want this one to go smoothly. They're coming off a 31-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs where the reserves did most of the damage. Yet midway through the preseason, the first-team offense hasn't been in sync very often. Quarterback Joe Flacco has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has completed 15 of 30 throws for 184 yards and no interceptions for a 69.3 passer rating.

For Flacco, it's a matter of building time with tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta as well as new wide receivers Lee Evans and Torrey Smith. "That's always an evolving process of getting familiar with your guys, and then you are always growing as a quarterback to learn NFL defenses," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Defenses are evolving. I have already seen some things in preseason tape that are new, that defensive coordinators are coming up with in the offseason. "So, you have to continue to grow and evolve. If you don't continue to grow, you are going to struggle. He needs to just continue to grow as a quarterback, get used to his guys, and we should get a little bit better every week this season." Former Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice got on track with an electrifying 26-yard touchdown run against Kansas City, but it was against the Chiefs' backups with All-Pro outside linebacker Tamba Hali on the bench. And the offensive line cut down on sacks allowed, surrendering two last week after allowing six sacks to open the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"We want to get better every week," rookie offensive tackle Jah Reid said. "Every one of these games is a chance for us to improve. We've all got to get better each time we hit the field." Winning the game isn't paramount to the Ravens, though.

Ideally, they would like to finish on top of the Redskins and have a sharp outing on offense and defense against a team that has already beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts this month.

"We want to win, we always want to win," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The guys who are going to have to win the game in the fourth quarter are going to be the young guys, just like they were able to do last week. And that was good to see. But yes, we want to see us developing into a winning and a championship football team. "The things that you will be able to recognize, whether it's on offense, defense or special teams, we want to play well. They're going to go against a team that's playing really well in the preseason. If you watch the tape on the Redskins, they are dominating in the preseason. That's a huge test for us. They've done a great job with their team, and it's just a great opportunity for us to get better."

Harbaugh emphasized that he won't play key players such as middle linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, free safety Ed Reed and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs for an extended period of time.

Still, the majority of the starters will play most of the game. It should provide a telling look at competitions for starting jobs at strong safety between Tom Zbikowski, Bernard Pollard and Haruki Nakamura and at inside linebacker between Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe. "Our plan will be to play them into the third quarter, maybe the whole third quarter," Harbaugh said. "You will see certain guys that won't go that long, as usual. There are other guys that really need the work, so we will be pushing them into the second half."

The Ravens haven't operated defensively like they're running the vanilla schemes that new coordinator Chuck Pagano had discussed at the beginning of camp so as to keep from unveiling packages intended for the regular season. Known for his aggressiveness, Pagano has blitzed liberally and run line stunts to create more pressure after the team had a franchise-worst 27 sacks last season.

The Ravens had 14 quarterback hits against the Chiefs, including five sacks. That doesn't mean that Pagano has actually opened up the playbook, though, as he's typically running three-man or four-man rushes.

"We kind of expected it," Johnson said. "That's Chuck, his personality. I can't believe he said he was going to be vanilla. I hope this is vanilla, because during the season, we'll really be bringing it."

Pagano said the Ravens overcame a lot of three-step drops to generate pressure against Kansas City.

"If you look at Kansas City's game plan, they weren't exactly letting us get to the quarterback," Pagano said. "It was a lot of three steps, a lot of screens, a lot of quick gains and things like that. Really, getting that many shots on them with what they came in with as a game plan is a testament to our defense and the way they played. ..

"I guess that's just letting them play. They've still got to line up and they've still got to block. Whether they see it now, it doesn't matter. We can show the same thing and not be running it and run something different. So, that's just a matter of cutting these guys loose and wanting to show a little more aggression than we've been."

Even though this is just a preseason game, the Ravens and Redskins' fans don't always treat it that way.

And the players acknowledged that they get a bit more competitive when it comes to playing the Redskins.

"I really want to play in this game," said Johnson, who has been dealing with a back injury. "This is the biggest thing for the starters, and it being the Redskins, kind of a little rivalry. So, I really wanted to play in this game. We've played really well. We'll find out."

McKinnie passes physical, signs $7.5 million contract

OWINGS MILLS - Former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie passed his physical and signed his two-year, $7.5 million maximum value contract, officially joining the Baltimore Ravens. He received a $1 million signing bonus. "Yes, I passed my physical," McKinnie wrote on his Twitter account.

Now, his arrival is expected to trigger a line shuffle with McKinnie taking over at left tackle and Michael Oher going back to right tackle where he played well as a rookie.

"I'm going to play left and they'll slide Oher over to the right," McKinnie said in a radio interview. "Yes, that's what'll take place." McKinnie, 31, is not slated to play tonight against the Washington Redskins because he has yet to practice with the Ravens. McKinnie reported to the Minnesota Vikings' training camp at nearly 400 pounds, weighing in at roughly 387 pounds.

He had weight clauses in all of his contracts with the Vikings since being drafted in the first round out of the University of Miami. He had a $250,000 workout bonus included in his Vikings contract before he was released. The Ravens are listing him at 6-foot-8, 345 pounds, but he's believed to be at least 10 to 20 pounds heavier than that.

McKinnie acknowledged that he did show up heavier than usual for camp and said he has a cholesterol problem that is being addressed through medication.

"Honestly we never took any conditioning tests [in Minnesota this year]," McKinnie said. "The two days I was there, we had two walkthroughs, so I wasn't really able to do anything. I never participated in any conditioning tests.

"So, there was never nothing to kind of determine where my conditioning was. I did come in heavy, heavier than I usually am. I was still training, and I knew where my level was." McKinnie said another reason he was released was his contract.

"Minnesota, it was honestly more of a numbers game about having their salary cap at a certain point by that Thursday, which wasn't really mentioned that much," McKinnie said. There was no more remaining proration from McKinnie's $13.5 million signing bonus received five years ago.

However, there was a $500,000 roster bonus contained in his Vikings deal as well as a scheduled $4.9 million base salary.

Why did McKinnie sign with Baltimore? "They have a great chance of making it to the playoffs, and then hopefully the Super Bowl," McKinnie said.

The Ravens are the only NFL team to win a playoff game in each of the past three seasons.

They have lost in the AFC divisional round for two years in a row after making it to the AFC championship game three seasons ago.

NOTE: The Ravens cut kicker-punter Jake Harfman to create a roster spot for McKinnie.

DIME PACKAGE: Six Things to Watch

1. Who's going to win the strong safety job? Former third-round draft pick Tom Zbikowski gets the starting nod tonight after Bernard Pollard started the previous week. Pollard is an enforcer type who blitzes and looks like a linebacker. Zbikowski's coverage has been steady, but needs to make some big plays. Quietly, Haruki Nakamura has turned in a strong preseason with eight tackles and a sack.

2. Who's going to win the third wide receiver job?

It's a three-man battle between rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss and kick returner David Reed. They all have different strengths, but Reed made a power move last week with three catches for 68 yards. He has the most explosive style of the candidates. Smith is fast, but raw in his patterns. Doss is sure-handed and runs crisp routes.

3. What's going on at cornerback?

Rookie first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams started last week against the Kansas City Chiefs and Williams worked with the first-team defense all week, but Smith split time with veteran Domonique Foxworth. Foxworth is still not fully over last year's torn anterior cruciate ligament.

4. Is Pernell McPhee the answer to the Ravens' third-down pass rush?

For two consecutive games, the fifth-round defensive end has forced a fumble only to have it nullified due to an instant-replay review. Although he's frustrated with the calls, McPhee has show the coaching staff that he's a legitimate pass rusher. Look for him in sub packages.

5. Will the first-team offense look sharp?

Midway through the preseason, Joe Flacco has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has completed only half his attempts. The lockout definitely seems to have affected timing with receivers.

6. Who's in and who's out?

The following players can be ruled out: center Matt Birk (knee) and newly-signed offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and outside linebacker Michael McAdoo, wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring) and offensive guard Marshal Yanda (back spasms). Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (back spasms) is expected to play and cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring) is a question mark.

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